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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Miami

 

A city and port in southeastern Florida on Biscayne Bay.

 

I

 

(SwStr: t. 730; l. 208'2"; b. 33'2"; dr. 8'6"; s. 8 mph.; cpl. 134; a. 1 80‑pdr P.r., 1 9" D. sb., 4 24‑pdrs.)

 

The first Miami, a side‑wheel, double‑ender gunboat, was launched by Philadelphia Navy Yard 16 November 1861; sponsored by Miss Ann Ingersoll; and commissioned there 29 January 1862, Lt. Abram Davis Harrell in command.

 

The wooden‑hulled gunboat was ordered 5 February 1862 to proceed to Ship Island, Miss., for duty in the Mortar Flotilla organized to neutralize Confederate riverside forts during Admiral Farragut’s impending attack on New Orleans. Miami reached Ship Island 19 March and headed for Pass a l’Outre where she entered the Mississippi to join Commander Porter’s flotilla.

 

During the next few weeks she was busy preparing for the assault. On 13 April Miami joined Westfield, Clifton, Oneida, and Harriet Lane and steamed upstream. A Confederate steamer exchanged fire with Union ships before scurrying upriver to safety. Early in the morning, 5 days later, Miami towed three mortar schooners to predesignated positions below Forts St. Philip and Jackson when the Union ships bombarded the Confederate works which guarded the approach to New Orleans. The shelling continued intermittently until it reached crescendo before dawn 24 April as Flag Officer Farragut led his deep draft, salt water fleet up the Mississippi in a daring dash past the forts.

 

Miami remained below with the mortar schooners providing covering fire for Farragut’s ships as they ran the gauntlet. When the Federal vessels had reached safety, Miami turned to transporting Army troops to positions for launching an attack on the forts by land and continued the task until the forts surrendered to the Navy on the 28th.

 

Farragut ordered the Mortar Flotilla to Ship Island 1 May to prepare for action against Mobile, Ala. Porter left Ship Island with his steamers and Sachem 7 May for Mobile Bar to prepare for an attack. After planting buoys to mark safe channels for Farragut’s deep‑draft ships, the steamers returned to Ship Island. On the 10th Porter, who had remained off Mobile on blockade duty, reoccupied Pensacola, Fla., after it bad been burned and abandoned by Confederate troops. Although most military and naval installations in the area had been destroyed or severely damaged by thorough Southern demolition work, Porter recognized the strategic advantages of Pensacola as a naval base and shifted his flotilla there from Ship Island.

 

Meanwhile, Farragut, upon returning from a daring expedition up the Mississippi to Vicksburg, had received “stringent orders to send a large force up the river” to join forces with Flag Officer Davis’ western flotilla in clearing the entire Mississippi Valley. He accordingly sent for Porter’s mortar schooners to shell the heights of Vicksburg and Memphis [which] cannot be reached by our guns.”

 

Miami reached New Orleans 7 June and spent the following fortnight towing schooners upriver. She reached Vicksburg on the 21st for a week’s service moving schooners in and out of firing positions and shelling the cliffside batteries herself. On the 28th her guns engaged the Confederate cannon at rapid fire while Farragut’s ships ran by the Vicksburg batteries to join the armed riverboats of Flag Officer Davis’s Western Flotilla. The joining of the salt water and fresh water squadrons bouyed morale throughout the North, but the strategic potential of the feat was largely nullified by a lack of ground forces to take and hold key points along the river. Farragut returned to the lower river 15 July.

 

Miami departed Ship Island 1 September and arrived Fort Monroe on the 9th. After 2 months devoted to reconnaissance duty up the James, blockade duty in Hampton Roads, and refitting, Miami got underway from Norfolk 9 November and entered the North Carolina sounds the following day. There she helped enforce the blockade, deterred Confederate military activity and gathered intelligence.

 

In an effort to counter the effect of Union naval superiority in the sounds, the Confederacy constructed a number of ironclads in North Carolina. One, Albemarle, built at Scotland Neck, afforded Miami the highlight of her service in the sounds. On 17 April 1864 Confederate troops launched a sustained attack on Plymouth, N.C. Union gunboats moved to support their troops ashore and were promptly taken under fire by the Southern batteries. Next day, the fighting at Plymouth intensified as the Confederates pressed the assault. Union Army steamer Bombshell was sunk during the engagement; but, by 9 O’clock in the evening, the southern advance had been halted.

 

Lieutenant Commander Flusser reported: “The Southfield and Miami took part and the general says our firing was admirable.” The southern attack required naval support in order to achieve success, and Musser added meaningfully: “The ram will be down tonight or tomorrow.”

 

Confederate ironclad Albemarle had departed Hamilton on the evening of the 17th, and anchored above Plymouth the following night. Shortly after midnight on the 19th, Albermarle weighed anchor and stood down to engage. Meanwhile, anticipating an attack by the ram, Lieutenant Commander Musser lashed Miami and Southfield together for mutual protection and concentration of firepower. As Albemarle appeared, he gallantly headed the two light wooden ships directly at the southern ram, firing as they approached. Albemarle struck Southfield a devastating blow with her ram. It was reported that she “tore a hole clear through to the boiler” and Albemarle’s captain stated that his ship plunged 10 feet into the side of the wooden gunboat. Though backing immediately after the impact, Albemarle could not at once wrench herself free from the sinking Southfield, and thus could not reply effectively to the fire poured into her by Miami. At last her prow was freed as Southfield sank, and Albemarle forced Musser’s ship to withdraw under a heavy cannonade. Small steamer Ceres and tinclad Whitehead moved downriver also. The shot of the Union ships had been ineffective against the heavily plated, sloping sides of the ram.

 

Early in the engagement, Lieutenant Commander Flusser had been killed. Brigadier General Wessels, commanding Union troops at Plymouth, noted: “In the death of this accomplished sailor the Navy has lost one of its brightest ornaments....

 

Albemarle now controlled the water approaches to Plymouth and rendered invaluable support to Confederate Army moves ashore, giving the South a taste of the priceless advantage Union armies enjoyed in all theaters throughout the war. On 20 April Plymouth fell to the southern attack. Albemarle’s threat to Union naval supremacy in North Carolina waters was ended 27 October when Lt. William B. Cushing exploded a spar torpedo under the ironclad’s overhanging armor, tearing a hole in her wooden hull.

 

Shifting to the James River to support General Grant’s drive on Richmond, Miami engaged Confederate batteries at Wilcox’s Landing, Va. Proceeding toward heavy firing Miami had discovered batteries at Wilcox’s Landing firing on Union transports. He immediately open a brisk cannonade, and after an hour the Confederates withdrew. Next day, Miami, accompanied by Osceola, drove off batteries which were firing on another group of transports near Harrison’s Landing, on the James River. Throughout the embattled South, Union gunboats kept communications and supply lines open despite the dogged determination of the Confederates to sever them.

 

For the remainder of the war Miami operated in the James playing an important role in the naval effort, assisting Grant’s unrelenting pressures on the Confederate capitol which finally forced the gallant Lee to surrender at Appomatox Courthouse, 9 April 1865. The double‑ender decommissioned at Philadelphia 22 May 1865 and was sold at auction in Philadelphia 10 August 1865. Documented 30 November 1865, Miami served American commerce until 1869.